Prime Minister David Cameron has warned MPs they need to be ‘extremely careful’to avoid the phone-hacking scandal being seen as revenge over MPs’ expenses.
Speaking at the Commons Liaison Committee yesterday, Cameron told MPs it would be a ‘disaster’for Parliament if investigations into phone-hacking were ‘in any way seen as a sort of revenge for expenses”.
‘The expenses scandal was just that – a scandal,’he said. ‘We must not be seen to be gleeful in leaping on this opportunity to over-regulate the media.”
The UK media must be ‘free, vigorous and able to uncover wrongdoing’but there was a ‘danger of the pendulum swinging too far the other way”, Cameron said.
Asked if he would consider plans to introduce statutory regulation of the press, the Prime Minister replied: ‘Let’s wait and see. What you do not want is government regulation of the media.
‘We see that in other countries and it does not lead to a free media. What does not seem to have worked is self-regulation – journalists regulating journalists. You need an independence of regulation.”
Cameron argued that while this could be created through statute it would still have to be ‘properly removed from the government”, citing the example of advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Agency.
While he welcomed the fact that the Leveson Inquiry will look into issues of media plurality, Cameron added: ‘If you try and pick a measure of plurality, you often find that the BBC will fall foul of it because of its huge coverage in terms of television and radio stations.
‘However, if you exclude the BBC from a measure of plurality, what sort of measure is that? I am all for this to be looked at, but it is not going to be easy.”
Cameron also admitted that he had become too close to leading executives at News International.
‘As leader of the Opposition and as Prime Minister, you do want to get your message across; but, as I say, looking back, it is possible to see now that there were regulatory issues.
‘A good example is the Information Commissioner’s report that Parliament as a whole, and senior politicians on all sides, just did not take seriously enough, and that is a matter of regret.
‘One of the things that is going to change obviously, I have now made public all the meetings that I have had, both official and private, with News International and other journalists and media organisations, and I think that is a good thing, people will in future be able to see how often you meet these people, where you meet them and all the rest of it.
‘They will hopefully see that it will be a more healthy relationship.”
Asked by MP John Whittingdale whether the Government was now trying to keep a greater distance from some leading media organisations, he replied: ‘Yes; I think that is right.
‘I have been thinking about this for some time: how you can try to have a good relationship where you feel you can communicate what you want to get across about your policies, your approach and the philosophy of the Government, without having a daily conversation.
‘That is one of the pressures in government; you have to try to keep your eye on the medium term and the long-term things that you want to do.
‘Obviously, there is a daily battle to try and get your message across. We have a 24-hour media, and we have a very hungry news agenda. But trying to have a bit more distance and to have a more professional relationship may be a good thing.”
‘I have said in Parliament that we are not all going to become monks and no-one is going to talk to a journalist ever again, but I think we can try and get the relationship on a better footing.’